Trying to write this after being completely blown away last night is going to take some time, but I’ll try my best to convey what was witnessed at the Sammy Hagar & The Circle/Collective Soul show at the new Toyota Music Factory. It may have been another strange pairing on paper (an alternative/post-grunge band with a straight forward hard rock group) – yet it was one of the most exciting shows of the year so far.
Atlanta, Georgia based Collective Soul has been around an amazing twenty-five years now and show no signs of slowing down. They are currently working on their tenth studio album to be released in 2018 while touring the States with Sammy. Lead singer/guitarist Ed Roland is a dynamo on stage – singing, dancing and strumming the guitar all while having the time of his life. Kicking off the set with “Heavy” from 1999’s Dosage album, what stood out the most were Dean Roland and Jesse Triplett nailing all of the guitar parts while Will Turpin’s bass notes thumped right through my chest. Their set turned into a mini “greatest hits” show as they ripped off one great song after another. 1997’s “Precious Declaration” featured Ed playing the acoustic guitar after which he slid over to the keyboard for the rock radio favorite “Shine”. Triplett’s guitar solo during this one was fantastic, the audience got into the mix by singing the “yeah” part (if you know the song – you’ll understand) and Johnny Rabb’s pounding drums at the end finished it off wonderfully.
Continuing on without so much as a minute break, the audience got into the act even further by singing along loudly during “Better Now” from 2004’ Youth album just before they slipped in a newer song that Ed promised “you’ve never ever heard before” = “Right as Rain”. Ed launched into another fine acoustic performance during “AYTA (Are You the Answer) and continued on with a killer intro into “The World I Know”. That song is perhaps their most beautifully written piece and comes across so well in a live, outdoor concert setting like the Toyota Music Factory.
A slightly re-worked version of “December” followed and I love what they did with the new drum & guitar parts that parlayed into an extended ending with Jesse once again displaying his immense guitar skills. Finishing their set off with three killer tunes: the crunchy “Gel”, the hard & heavy “Where the River Flows” and easy flowing “Run” – Collective Soul showed that they still have what it takes to put on a great rock show. The last song was made even sweeter with Dean sitting down on the keyboards and Ed displaying his considerable vocal range throughout the tune. They finally finished their night by waving to the fans as they walked off and Ed continuing to play his guitar off stage as the lights dimmed one set at a time.
With a career spanning nearly fifty years (yes 5-0 years!!!), Sammy Hagar has been through plenty in the music business and sometimes it seems just like yesterday that he got started with Montrose. Titling his latest creation “Sammy Hagar and The Circle” is very fitting of his live shows now because it is a detailed look back at all of the bands he has played with. With “the circle” referencing his career and the current band he was playing with – it’s important to know who was up on stage with him: bassist Michael Anthony from Van Halen, guitarist Vic Johnson from The BusBoys & Sammy’s solo career and drummer extraordinaire Jason Bonham (son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham). Some people like his solo stuff, some like his years with Van Halen but most all agree that whatever your fancy is = Sammy Hagar will always be The Red Rocker!!!
As the lights dimmed, the audience was treated to a montage of old Sammy pictures and video highlights from years past. It was a great way to warm up the near sold-out audience as it got the juices flowing and by the time Sammy hit the stage with the rest of his band, near pandemonium had set in. Blazing a trail that would never slow down, he launched right into “There’s Only One Way to Rock” from his 1981 solo album Standing Hampton. Not only is his voice still great, he was still tearing up the guitar like it nobody’s business. With the old video starting to show on the backdrop, guitarist Vic Johnson ripped into the intro to “Poundcake” as the audience lost their freaking minds. I was only four rows from the stage (thanks for the sweet ticket Sammy) and it felt like the whole place was about to explode!!! With Jason pounding the drums like his father, they broke it a super cool cover of “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin just before they played a stunning version of Montrose’s “Rock Candy”. Vic nailed the guitar parts perfectly and launched into a badass solo that was making the show one big party.
Catching his breath for a second, Sammy relayed a story of Jason getting a ticket in Florida for driving too fast on the way to a show which lead into perhaps his most successful solo song ever – “I Can’t Drive 55”. With Sammy singing & playing the guitar, Michael Anthony slid over and sang a few lines here and there. Reaching into his vast catalog of bands, he pulled out “Big Foot” from his super group Chickenfoot from their 2011 album Chickenfoot III. Right after someone threw an old Van Halen t-shirt up on stage, they played two VH songs back-to back (“…it’s two fer Thursday” Sammy said). “Right Now” was highlighted by a piped in keyboard intro and Sammy talking about the people of South Texas needing all of our help right now. With the old video playing in the background, the band pulled this one off to perfection. The second song was “Why Can’t This Be Love” and not that the audience needed another reason to go nuts but this hit from 1985 had Michael singing quite a bit, Vic tearing up his guitar and Sammy all over the place.
Taking a little dig at the Van Halen brothers (“… the devil and his brother were talking bad about me”), he played “Little White Lie” just before Jason tore into the booming drum intro of “When the Levee Breaks”. The hits just kept coming as they played Van Halen’s “Finish What Ya Started”, a searing “Heavy Metal” and the party song “Mas Tequila” from his time with The Waboritas. The audience was just fanatical at this point so when the band stepped off the stage for a break – the yelling & screaming for more never stopped. Re-emerging for a three-song encore, Sammy & the boys played Van Halen’s “When It’s Love” (spectacular), another Led Zeppelin cover “Rock and Roll” and finally a beautiful acoustic song “Dreams”.
The whole night was utter craziness – with the bands on stage giving it their all, the audience going nuts throughout and the new venue hosting it all so well. Sammy never once looked like a man almost 70 years old – singing, shredding and bantering back & forth with the audience. He gave a shout out to his family in attendance, put on fans’ shirts they threw up on stage – signing them – and then tossing them back and genuinely looking like he was having the time of his life.